Against the backdrop of the release of staggering unemployment figures and fierce debate among Senate Democrats and Republicans over the multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package, President Barack Obama signed an executive order today initiating the formation of a national economic recovery board.
In the White House East Room, Obama asked a body composed of business, economic, and labor leaders to “enlist voices beyond the Washington echo chamber” and tap a “broad and diverse range of opinion.” He further asserted: “No single act can meet the challenges of the moment. We need more hands on deck…. I’m not interested in groupthink. In order to develop the best policies, we need independent thought and vigorous debate.”
To effectively implement planks of the $800 billion-plus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as the upcoming financial stabilization proposal from the Treasury Department, he has assembled a who’s who of corporate and political powerhouses. The body will be chaired by Paul Volker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who in the president’s words is “the foremost expert on the economy and handled many challenges to the nation including one of our worst economic crises in the early 1980s. He helped restore confidence and pull us out of it.”
Volker has served as one of Obama’s leading advisers during his presidential campaign and through the development of the economic stimulus proposal. Austan Goolsbee, a member of the White House economic team and a long-time adviser, will help coordinate the board’s findings and recommendations.
Other members of the board include Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA-CREF and former vice chairman of the Fed during Alan Greenspan’s tenure, and Charles Phillips, president of software giant Oracle Corp. Both Ferguson and Phillips were recently listed on the B.E. 100s “Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America” roster in Black Enterprise’s February 2009 issue.
The announcement of the board coincides with the release of dire economic news. The Labor Department released unemployment figures showing that 598,000 workers received pink slips for the month of January, lifting the unemployment rate to 7.6%. Earlier this week, the federal government reported that more than 62,000 people filed unemployment claims in a week — the highest figure since 1974.
Citing these reports, Obama has become more aggressive in using his office as a bully pulpit to gain Senate approval of his plan. He has indicated that numbers of unemployed will rise and businesses will be forced to shutdown as a “result of inaction” by congressional leaders. There are no easy answers, “but broadly speaking, the package is the right size and it is the right scope,” he said. “That’s not my assessment. That’s the assessment of independent economists.”
The formation of the board is an extension of Obama’s philosophy of gaining independent input to